Wind shifts in gun-control debate

The Senate gun bill that seemed dead a week ago has gathered strong momentum as cracks have emerged in the Republican unity against it.

The shift in the political winds has been dramatic, and could help pass the most far-reaching gun control bill in nearly two decades.

 

A couple weeks ago, Democrats did not appear to have the votes to bring a gun violence bill to the floor over the objections of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

 

Two Republicans, Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), broke the impasse by bucking their leadership.

A senior Democratic aide said a pivotal moment came on April 7 when McCain chastised his Republican colleagues in a CBS interview for threatening to block the gun bill from coming up for debate.

 

“The dam broke when McCain went on ‘Face the Nation,’ ” the aide said.

 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has not been shy in criticizing McCain over the years, last week praised the Arizona Republican after the gun bill cleared a major procedural hurdle.

Earlier this month, McConnell and more than a dozen other GOP senators, including Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), vowed to filibuster the motion to proceed to the gun bill. At the time, it looked like gun control was slowly dying in the upper chamber.

But the tide turned when Toomey — who has an A rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) — announced at a press conference with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) that they had struck a deal to expand background checks to cover all sales at gun shows and over the Internet.

“I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun control. I think it’s just common sense,” Toomey said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the prospects for gun legislation looked bleak at the start of last week.

“Days ago nobody thought we could move forward and we’re moving forward and I’m very, very hopeful about [this] week,” he said.

Democratic lawmakers said the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims, who flew to Washington with President Obama aboard Air Force One last week, have had a big impact. That White House decision, coupled with Obama’s use of the bully pulpit, helped change the dynamic.

Sixteen Republicans voted Thursday to begin debate on the gun violence package, even though Reid and McConnell had yet to reach an agreement on which amendments would be considered.

“I’m very optimistic,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who co-authored legislation to crack down on the illegal trafficking of firearms, which has been included in the base bill. “I think it matters that the families of the victims from Connecticut came to Washington.”

Gun-control advocates have also been helped by CNN’s and MSNBC’s reporting on an al Qaeda propaganda video in which a spokesman for the terrorist group urges potential jihadists to buy assault weapons at gun shows where background checks are not required for non-licensed sellers. Conservatives argue the video is misleading because the spokesman claims fully automatic weapons can be purchased, which is not true. Military-style semi-automatic firearms are legal since the gun ban Congress passed expired in 2004.

Democrats and Republicans alike say the gun violence package still faces a tortuous path to Senate passage and dimmer prospects in the GOP-led House.

“I think it would be very difficult, but I don’t know for sure,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.), one of the Republicans who voted to begin debate on the bill, when asked about its prospects for success.

The NRA, one of the most powerful interest groups in Washington, says it will score lawmakers for their votes on the Toomey-Manchin proposal to allow the broader package to move to a final vote. It remains to be seen if Toomey-Manchin will attract the necessary 60 votes. There are 55 senators who caucus with the Democrats, though a few from red states might defect. Sens. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Susan Collins (Maine) are the only other Republicans who have publicly backed the measure.

Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, called the Toomey-Manchin deal “misguided” and warned the expansion of background checks would criminalize the private transfer of firearms by making the failure to comply with stricter regulations a felony.

Republican strategists acknowledge polls show the public favors expanded background checks by a 9-to-1 margin and that more people are paying attention to gun control.

“There’s no question that there’s been enormously greater attention to gun issues as a result of the horrible massacre, but I’m not convinced the fundamentals of politics have changed on this issue,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. “Intensity matters in politics and on no issue is intensity more important than on guns.”

Republicans have been slow to follow Toomey’s lead. But the deal appears to have given cover to at least some politically vulnerable Democrats.

“This plan represents a common sense solution reached by two of my colleagues —one a Democrat, one a Republican — and I plan to support the bipartisan proposal,” said Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), who is up for reelection next year.

For the first time, the NRA is being matched by equally well-funded opponents: Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Independence USA PAC, groups backed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who has made gun control his top national priority.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns spent $12 million on a lobbying campaign to pressure lawmakers over the Easter recess and director Mark Glaze says “we will spend as necessary.” The group planned 80 events in target states over the weekend.

Reid is negotiating with McConnell to set up a vote on Toomey-Manchin and other amendments early this week.

Expanded background checks are the heart of Obama’s gun control agenda. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called them the “sweet spot” of the issue.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) thinks the political landscape for gun control has changed in recent days: “The trend line, in terms of people’s concern, is increasing.”

Former Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.), who pushed gun control bills when he served in the House, said, “The only argument is the camel’s nose under the tent, that this is the first step to banning guns or confiscating guns. You can’t vote based on that argument because then you’re not going to vote for anything.”

 

 
http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/293787-wind-shifts-on-gun-control#ixzz2QYFep7me 

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Gun bill clears Senate hurdle as filibuster falls short

(Fox News) Controversial gun legislation cleared a key Senate hurdle Thursday, as lawmakers voted 68-31 to start debate on the package which includes expanded background checks and new penalties for gun trafficking.

Senate Democrats, joined by 16 Republicans, were able to overcome an attempted filibuster by GOP senators opposed to the current bill. Those senators could still slow-walk the debate, but the Senate will eventually begin votes on amendments — one of which is considered crucial to winning support for a final vote.

The White House called Thursday’s tally an “important” but “early milestone,” as both sides of the issue prepare for a grueling debate — one that is being waged in Washington and on the airwaves.

The amendment likely to be at the front of the line is one from Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., which would scale back the call for universal background checks. The plan would expand checks to gun-show and Internet sales, but exempt certain personal transactions.

The National Rifle Association and other gun-rights supporters voiced concern about the new proposal, saying it still goes too far. But the plan, offered by two lawmakers who are at the conservative end of their respective parties, could help ease opposition ahead of a final vote.

The legislation required at least 60 votes to advance Thursday. If the bill ultimately passes the Senate, it would still have to pass the Republican-dominated House.

“The hard work starts now,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid acknowledged after Thursday’s vote.

He assured Democrats that a proposal to renew the assault weapons ban and a ban on high-capacity magazines would get a vote as an amendment, though it was dropped from the main bill amid intense opposition. The main bill also includes a measure to increase school safety funding.

Reid lost two Democrats in Thursday’s vote — Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, both lawmakers from states with a strong tradition of gun ownership.

More than a dozen Republican senators for days had threatened to hold up the bill Thursday. They voiced concern that the proposal — namely, the background checks provision — would infringe on Second Amendment rights and impose a burden on law-abiding gun owners. They also expressed frustration that, while Manchin and Toomey touted their compromise measure, the bill on the table Thursday did not yet include that. Rather, it included a stricter background checks provision.

“Because the background-check measure is the centerpiece of this legislation it is critical that we know what is in the bill before we vote on it,” Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; and Mike Lee, R-Utah, said in a statement. “The American people expect more and deserve better.”

Thursday’s vote follows an intense week of lobbying by gun control advocates, including the families of the victims of the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. That shooting prompted calls at the state and federal levels for new gun legislation.

Advocates like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns group are likely to spar intensely with the NRA and conservative lawmakers in the coming days as lawmakers debate the bill and advance to a final vote.